In preparation for Chuck Season 4, here are the rest of my Season 3 reviews to be posted daily. So keep a watchful eye, peeps.
Chuck vs. the Mask *** 3.7
Finally! Jim Carrey has a guest spot!
Okay, my frivolous flag has been used up. Now we get down to bidness.
In the spirit of the mood of going on the offense that Chuck fans seemed to have collectively experienced, my analysis (or attack) will be two pronged.
First off, as a caper, I think Mask worked very well. We got set up with the dilemma of stealing an ancient mask wanted by the Ring out of a heavily secure museum, saw the plan of action, saw the improv that all caper stories must have at some point, and saw resolution to the caper. The only thing missing was some hipster cinematography and Clooney and Pitt.
We also get some character development. Hannah proved to be quite a potent part of the puzzle here, accompanying Chuck on a rescue mission, even pitching in with some IT expertise. She reveals what should be pretty obvious. She’s into Chuck hardcore. Sarah has her own admirer from Shaw, but not nearly as cute or positive. In fact, he’s kind of a creep until you realize that his experience as a spy has atrophied his social skills when it comes to women. Apparently, Sarah is drawn to his clumsy attempts at woo, and it helps that he had a hand in saving her life. And he’s not alone on the life-saving front, as Chuck manages his own rescue of an unconscious Hannah. Meanwhile, Morgan and Ellie try to get to the bottom of what’s up with Chuck. They find out what they need to know, and while one is ecstatic and content the other is feeling down in the dumps…and perhaps a wee bit betrayed.
Now the second part entails a bit deeper analysis and even a subtextual wankfest. This episode is very much about deception and how we deceive ourselves as well as others. This is kind of demonstrated through the title of the episode itself. Each character wears a “mask” of some kind to conceal their true motives or feelings.
I think it’s best to come at each character and their motivation separately, starting with the periphery characters. As we go along, I’m hoping it becomes apparent why the episode had some deeper layers than what appears on the surface as the further along we go, the deceptions get harder and harder to discern, which I think is the point.
Hannah deceives Morgan by lying to him so she can tail Chuck to his next install. She further deceives Chuck by saying that she came to Los Angeles so she could have a fresh start with Chuck, not so much for a fresh start at her professional career.
Shaw couches a burgeoning (and some would say suspect) attraction to Sarah by way of taking advantage of their couple cover at the museum mixer to do some unprofessional nuzzling on Sarah‘s supple neck. Somewhat similar perhaps to Sarah’s PDA when she played the role of Chuck’s girlfriend. But, as is usually the case with imminent death, Shaw finally reveals to Sarah that while he has been dishonest in motive, he has not been dishonest in feeling. He likes her. A lot. She reciprocates. And it seems in the end they are an ambivalent couple. But thanks to a somewhat shady look by Shaw at the end, perhaps his motives aren’t as innocent as he makes it seem. We shall see.
Morgan and Ellie–
The main deception these two have is their clandestine investigation into Chuck. (Which is hilarious with the whole secret knock business. Vintage Morgan.) But, the most notable deception occurs at the end as Ellie can’t hide her joy that Chuck has a new girlfriend in Hannah, while Morgan tries damned hard to disguise his heartbreak over losing his shot at Hannah to his best friend.
Casey’s a pretty no-frills kinda guy but he has his moments here when he suggests a bit of subterfuge with the mask to save Shaw and Sarah who are in quarantine thanks to a poison gas.
I think to understand why Sarah does what she does you have to look at her events chronologically. It starts off with Sarah being annoyed at Shaw’s special attention to her and then when she’s paired with Chuck, they both air their jealousies about their respective love interests. But keep in mind that Chuck and Sarah are also glad to be paired together again. Like old times.
And that’s important because when Sarah is infected, Chuck obviously tries to save her. But he’s primarily going to save Hannah who has been used by the Ring in a trade: the mask for her life. So I think it’s a matter of priorities as weird as that sounds. Shaw also gets Sarah to the museum first because she’s more in need of the antidote than he is. So he gets to play hero with Sarah just as Chuck plays hero in saving Hannah’s life. So Shaw is splitting up Team Bartowski. Shaw wasn’t training Chuck to still keep the team together. He was training him to become independent of the team. To be a solo spy. This is what Chuck wants. And Sarah and Casey understand this. Professionally.
Personally is a different matter. In a bittersweet moment, Chuck and Sarah let each other go. But in a nicely subtle bit of acting, it is clear from Sarah’s eyes that she is begging that Chuck asks to be with her, spying be damned. But she gives good subterfuge and maybe Chuck is seeing what he wants to see. Permission. A blessing to move on with his life. Back with Shaw, she puts on good attraction but she’s swimming with ambivalence. Can’t be with the one you love then do that Stephen Stills thang.
Chuck pretty much lies to everyone with a pulse in this episode, but the most important person he lies to is himself. He fools himself into convincing himself he’s over Sarah; mainly because he’s under the impression that Sarah wants to move on with Shaw. But it’s not all selfless. He also thinks he’s ready to be on his own as a spy. Shaw’s even admitted as such and those are pretty high props.
And he’s got a hottie computer wiz who thinks that he’s a hero, an honest-to-goodness knight in shining armor. It’s got to do wonders for one’s self-confidence. Or his ego. And that’s where we’re headed. A fall. Chuck’s on such a high right now that the mother of all falls is just around the bend.
Looking at in those terms, I think it’s easier to put the episode in context. At some point we’re gonna see some truth-telling from all parties. Confessional. Ugly. And ultimately freeing. The truth will set Chuck and Sarah free.
I was actually reminded of another moment akin to the Chuck/Sarah one in the Buffy episode First Date where Buffy tells Spike about her date with Principal Wood. It has that same kind of vibe of telling the other person what you think they want to hear and trying to convince yourself that you’re ready to move on. Buffy drops little hints about Spike not having to be noble about her date. If he wants to feel pissed, he can feel pissed. And he’s not. He’s a gentleman. Then after putting on the “it’s-all-good” front, once Buffy leaves he expresses his sadness.
The big difference between First Date and the Mask, though, is that the audience saw resolution with Buffy’s feelings. When Spike gets injured, he takes emotional priority to Buffy. When Spike might come under the influence of the season’s main villain, the First Evil, he offers to leave town, but Buffy won’t let him because she admits she’s not ready to let him go. If we saw something similar where Sarah expressed that Chuck was her primary concern, I think fans would have been fine. Sarah may be going out with Shaw, but Chuck is first in her heart.
But we didn’t. The episode ends with Chuck/Hannah and Sarah/Shaw and because of the Olympics, fans were left in the lurch for two weeks. Now while some of it was over the top, the frustration to a certain extent is understandable. But really there was no way for the creators to prepare for this very gracefully. Originally, Chuck was supposed to come back after the Olympics so the cliffhanger wasn’t very elegant.
But that’s no excuse for fans threatening to boycott a show because of the creators tearing Chuck and Sarah apart. Schwartz and Fedak don’t owe you a damned thing. It’s their story, for better or for worse. It’s their creation. And considering how many fans of Chuck there are giving them the benefit of the doubt wouldn’t be out of the question.
In any case, the most important part as per usual is what happens at the end. The Ring now knows that Daniel Shaw is alive and plotting against them. And apparently the vendetta against him has not been forgotten. Under the circumstances I think romance can be placed on the back burner for the time being. And I can’t wait to get back to the shenanigans of Team Bartowksi.